The Stuff of Legend: 2009 Film Florida Legends Awards
When I first heard about the Film Florida Legends Award, I knew immediately that Florida filmmaker Bill Grefe was a prime candidate to receive one. Once I had secured the contact information for the nominations, I wasted very little time sending them the following E-mail:
My name is ED Tucker and I am an author and film historian based out of Jacksonville. I would like to take this opportunity to formally nominate producer/director William Grefe for the Film Florida Legends Award. Mr. Grefe has a film career spanning five decades and over a dozen features, almost all of which were filmed in Florida. While Mr. Grefe is best known for his work in the exploitation genre, he has worked with actors such as Mickey Rooney, Rita Hayworth, William Shatner, and Richard Jaeckel. He is also responsible for bringing James Bond to Florida with his second unit direction of the impressive speedboat chase and other action scenes in Live and Let Die starring Roger Moore. William Grefe is most recognizable as a producer and director but he is also a credited writer, actor and cinematographer, displaying his knowledge of all areas of filmmaking. I believe that in reviewing Mr. Grefe’s career, you will find, as I have, that he is a true Florida film legend and should be recognized as such.
I never received an acknowledgement on my recommendation, so it came as a complete surprise about a month later when Bill Grefe called to tell me that he won and would be receiving his award at a ceremony in Miami in June. Even if he had not invited me to attend, I knew I had to be there to see this in person.
Film Florida, Inc is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to advancing the film industry in the state. In addition to providing leadership for the film community, they have also created a trade organization to pool resources and provide assistance and guidance to filmmakers. There membership includes almost every major entity in the Florida film business and they work closely with local and state officials to provide incentives for outside productions to come to Florida.
The Legends Awards were started by the organization just three short years ago in 2006. That year their sole award was presented to none other than the Creature of the Black Lagoon himself, Ricou Browning. I can’t imagine a more fitting inaugural recipient. With each successive year, the number of awards presented has grown and this year four members of the Florida film scene were honored.
This year’s ceremony was held at the beautiful Colony Theater in Miami Beach. Just walking into this place is a nostalgia rush for the old giant single screen theaters that have become rare sights in modern times. Prior to the event, a cocktail party was held outside the theater with a full bar and some wonderful hors devours. Camera crews darted in and out of the crowd, grabbing interviews with the mingling guests wherever they could. While my visit with Bill was cut short here, I did get to meet his wife Grace and all three of his daughters Melanie, Cindy, and Laurie and their families. It was obvious during the pre-event reception that there was going to be a full house inside at the ceremony. My wife Cindy, who was handling photography duties on this event, and I decided to take our seats early and beat the crowd into the theater.
In addition to William Grefe, whose catalog of films including Stanley, Impulse, and Death Curse of Tartu is well known to cult film fans, this year’s honorees were:
Michelle Marx – one of the first female members of the Director’s Guild of America, Ms. Marx has served as assistant director on such well known films as Caddyshack, True Lies, and Jaws: The Revenge. While she has traveled the world in her career, she has remained firmly rooted in Florida and is a strong political activist for film related legislation.
Errol Falcon – a fixture of the Florida film scene for over four decades, Mr. Falcon established his own production company in 1978 and has been steadily producing features, commercials, and music videos in south Florida ever since. He is best known as the director of over 250 episodes of the Univision series Sabado Gigante.
Michael McGowan, Sr. – while perhaps not as high profile as the other recipients this year, Mike McGowan played a vital role in many of Florida’s cult films. He grew up in a film family where his father, Jack, had a reputation as one of the best cinematographers in the area. Mike assisted his father on many shoots, including Jacksonville’s own ZAAT, and quickly became a talented cameraman. He worked on both of the Bob Clark/Alan Ormsby horror films made in Florida, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things and Dead of Night, and was briefly married to Jane Daly who starred in both movies. He progressed from low budget films to major Hollywood productions like Jaws 2, Pretty Baby, and Body Heat. Sadly, Michael McGowan, Sr. passed away last November at the age of only 62 and his son, Michael McGowan, Jr., who carries on the family business, accepted the award for him posthumously.
Master of Ceremonies Graham Winick, who is also the president of Film Florida, introduced each of this year’s recipients following a short compilation of clips from their works and comments from their industry peers was shown. These brief bios demonstrated just how diverse the careers of these individuals have been and how far the motion picture business has come in the sunshine state. Carl Kesser and Accord Productions are to be commended for the excellent job they did on the shorts, which could easily be incorporated into a larger documentary.
As the moment I had been waiting for arrived, the room went completely dark. Just as the audience was about to start suspecting some technical problem, the unmistakable voice of actor Bruce Campbell broke the silence and a special video introduction he had prerecorded was played. In addition to congratulating Bill Grefe on his award, Campbell introduced Bill’s daughter Melanie to present it. Continuing in her father’s footsteps, Melanie Grefe is the assistant director on the series Burn Notice in which Campbell stars. All three of Bill Grefe’s daughters have worked in the movie industry but, as Bill puts it, Melanie was “the only one who didn’t have enough brains to get out”!
The short biography on Bill featured some rare photos of his early career and clips from Stanley, Mako: Jaws of Death, and Impulse. Following the video presentation, Bill took the podium and made a brief acceptance speech for the award. Prior to this, I never realized that Bill’s chosen profession after leaving the military was that of a fire fighter. He left this dangerous but stable job after his script for the movie Racing Fever was sold in 1963. When the film’s director became ill, the producers decided that no one could know the script better than the writer and Bill had film direction thrust upon him unexpectedly. Fortunately his previous training as an actor, with no less than fellow student Lee Marvin, helped him with his newly acquired trade and the rest, as they say, is history.
Film Florida did an absolutely top notch job on this year’s awards ceremony from start to finish. It was obvious a great deal of thought, planning, and preparation went into everything from the venue and reception to the minor details of the presentation itself. The four local talents who received awards this year were given a well deserved night of respect that truly honored them as the film legends they are. Congratulations to everyone.